The Who - My Generation (Brunswick, 1965)
My Generation wouldn’t even be in the top three albums by The Who. Hell, it probably wouldn’t even make the top five. In terms of sonic experimentation and narrative exploration, the band would develop and progress into a much more accomplished act than the group of young mods featured on the cover of their debut record. But - and it is a big but - as far as debut records go, My Generation was the most explosive arrival any rock ‘n’ roll band had made back in 1965, and as a statement of intent it was leaps and bounds ahead of the first couple of albums by the forefathers of the British Invasion, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Like The Beatles and The Stones, The Who wore their influences (‘Maximum R&B’) on their tailor made sleeves in the early days, as shown in their decision to cover not one but two James Brown songs, namely I Don’t Mind and Please, Please, Please. What’s interesting about those two songs too, is that Roger Daltrey doesn’t actually sound like the Roger Daltrey who sings on all the other songs. He was a long way from the confident and fully rounded arena rock god he’d become by the end of the decade at this point in time, but his full range as a vocalist was on display in its primitive form and that’s one of the imperfections that makes this album special.
What set The Who apart from their contemporaries as well were their own songs, and full credit here has to go to Pete Townshend. Lennon/McCartney and Richards/Jagger wouldn’t begin penning original compositions of any significance until a few albums into their careers: Townshend on the other hand had this album’s title track in his arsenal from the outset. Alongside Ace Of Spades, it remains to this day the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll anthem for eternal youth, and the ‘live fast and loud’ mantra that rock music has always typified and championed.
Massive hooks, crunching power chords, killer lyrics (“I hope I die before I get old”) a wall of distorted guitars, the overriding presence of John Entwistle’s powerful bass, Moon the Loon’s violent but utterly exact drumming, and the speed freak stutter of Daltrey’s vocal delivery combine to make My Generation one of the most ferocious and enduring songs in rock history. It would influence punk, hard rock, heavy metal, and basically every form of art with a sense of attitude. All roads lead back to this, as the world’s first musical middle finger to ‘The Man’.
And as far as anthems for a generation go, The Kids Are Alright wasn’t far behind, serving as the perfect soundtrack to swinging Sixties that probably weren’t quite as swinging as romantic nostalgia has painted them out to be. That was another great skill Pete Townshend possessed as a lyricist and a songwriter during the peak years of his creativity. He had a wonderful ability to see through the spin of popular culture and paint a realistic portrait of life in the youthful laments featured here on My Generation, and later on Tommy, Quadrophenia and beyond.
Townshend also had a great ear for pop, and songs like The Good’s Gone and La-La-La Lies are pure pop gold. The Who are a hard rock band, there’s no doubt about that, but the production on all of their records - even on this, their earliest and rawest release – is so lush, and underneath all the amplification and aggression the songs are drenched in harmonies and melodies. Listening to the interplay of the four members of the band on this record, you can get lost in the dynamics and the drama of the music. Whilst they’d go on to be much greater masters of their craft, the unadulterated energy flaunted throughout My Generation ensures it’ll remain a vital and exciting listening experience for many more years to come. And as a debut album by a hard rock band, it’s up there with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Appetite For Destruction and Rage Against The Machine as one of the all-time greats.